ACC Basketball: Coach K thinks his team is pretty good
By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News and Observer
The group of Duke basketball players Mike Krzyzewski refers to as ěthe other teamî is quietly becoming a November memory.
Thatís the team the Duke coach led for the first eight games of the season ó the team with fabulous freshman Kyrie Irving at point guard.
It was, in all likelihood, the best college team in the land, too. Krzyzewski basically has said as much on several occasions.
With Irving sidelined by a toe injury on his right foot and possibly kaput for the season, whatís left is a cast Krzyzewski likes to call ěthis team.î
ěThis teamî trailed Virginia and Maryland in the second halves of ACC games in Cameron Indoor Stadium and was handed a 66-61 loss at Florida State on Jan. 12.
ěThis teamî is not the best in the nation and may never reach that level.
But as Thursdayís 84-68 win over Boston College indicated, the Blue Devils (19-1, 6-1 ACC) are still good and getting better by the day at a time in the season when some fast-starters begin to sputter.
Like the overwhelming majority of this seasonís ACC litter, first-year coach Steve Donahueís Eagles (14-7, 4-3) arenít strong enough to provide a definitive reading on Dukeís national standing without Irving.
That, however, doesnít alter the fact that Krzyzewski has done enough rebuilding on the run to solidly position ěthis teamî for a No. 1 NCAA tournament regional bid, a probable opening weekend placement in Charlotte (March 18 and 20) and at least a puncherís chance to reach another Final Four.
With seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler as leaders, itís not surprising that Duke remains potent.
Smith, the new point, is on track to win the ACC player of the year award in a landslide, and Singler will make his share of all-star teams. Smith was good for 28 points and eight assists Thursday, and Singler had 14 points even while shooting poorly.
But after those two, the Blue Devils are becoming an example of the whole exceeding the individual pieces.
Lanky sophomore Ryan Kelly, who looked lost all of 2009-10 and early this season, is emerging as a borderline offensive force. He had 14 points against the Eagles and has converted 20 of his last 26 field-goal attempts.
On the perimeter, undersized Seth Curry (20 points, three assists) and Andre Dawkins have combined to fill the void that was created when Smith moved into Irvingís role.
Inside, Mason Plumlee has developed into a monster rebounder while his brother Miles, who was a starter earlier, has mastered the difficult task of delivering instant energy in a reserveís role.
ěKyrie shaped our team, and weíre a whole different team without him in there,î Kelly said.
ěIt took us a while, but now weíre beginning to get a flow. We needed to figure out what we had to do, especially on offense. But weíre starting to move better. Weíre not stopping and waiting with the ball the way we did sometimes earlier. Plus, our defense is coming around. Our rebounding has been pretty good all along.î
Few coaches place a higher value on the team concept route to winning in late season and postseason than Krzyzewski. Itís apparent heís made quick, impressive progress in meshing the team without Irving into a different but still dangerous unit.
ěWeíre getting better,î Krzyzewski said. ěWith this team, weíre more in a November-December mode than late-January. Weíve had to go in a different direction, but itís coming around.î